Sins of the Fathers
|Review by Thaumaturge
New Orleans, July of 1993. The days are muggy, yet a chill may still run down your spine should you read the daily newspaper. A series of grisly murders are being committed. Yet despite their brazen public setting, somehow there seems to be no eyewitnesses. Each victim is left gorily bereft of their heart, and about them are scattered what seem to be the remains of the trappings of a voodoo ritual. There are no suspects.
In the French Quarter of that same city lives Gabriel Knight, unsuccessful author and proprietor of an even less successful bookshop – St. George's Books – run with the help of Grace Nakimura, taking a break after getting her Master's degree in History and Classics.
In the Voodoo Murders, as the newspapers title the horrific killings, Gabriel sees an opportunity. His close friend, Detective Mosely, has been assigned to the case, and has agreed to give Knight inside information, with which Gabriel plans to craft his new, Voodoo-based horror novel.
What begins as research for a novel, however, slowly becomes something far greater, darker, and deeper. Gabriel Knight will find himself the focus of a story weaving murder, magic, love, desire, and an ancient duty together. As he searches or the truth, Gabriel finds that his family has a deep connection to the Voodoo Murders. The nightmares that plague his sleep have been passed from father to son as a history and symbol of betrayal and duty. It is a to right a terrible wrong from the past.
The story, while slow at the outset, is certainly very good. Even the slow beginnings do not hurt the game play experience as they feel like a natural part of the plot progression. The author, Jane Jensen, draws the player in at the beginning with the Voodoo Murders and Gabriel's research, slowly establishing Gabriel's family history and the hints that something deeper is at work than what the newspapers are reporting. In time, these two threads are found to be intertwined. Linked by an encounter, the story tells a meeting and twining of fates and powers centuries past, yet whose effects have not diminished with time.
The story is strengthened by the use of real places and research, giving the game a greater sense of realism and bringing it closer to the world in which we live, heightening the dramatic and horrific impact of each turn.
This is a game with emotional impact, with moments tense, frightening, dramatic, sad, and touching. The characters are believable, and the important ones are given some depth beyond simple “villain” or “hero” roles. This is not an easy story for its main characters: love, desire, duty, and betrayal bind them together and drive them into conflict.
However, Sins of the Fathers does not have a uniformly serious tone. The dialogue is peppered with humor, predominantly towards the beginning, and especially between Gabriel and Grace -a relationship which adds a lot to the story, being both humorously acid and affectionate, as well as being important to the narrative. The dynamics between Gabriel and Grace help to hold player interest during the early parts of the game. In addition the relationship between the two characters adds a little depth to their dialogues, elevating them above pure doom and gloom without falling prey to the trap of making the subject matter trivial.
Much of the depth in the narrative is due to Gabriel's personality, which, although at times a little overdone, is convincing. He is not a conventional hero – his motive in investigating the murders is to find material for his book. In his personal life he commits to no-one, sleeping with women for a night and avoiding their calls afterwards. He has lived his life giving little regard to others (with the exception of his grandmother, who raised him). The journey of this game, however, will give him reasons to care and to fight, both new ones and ones that he perhaps hadn't realized that he had. We see Gabriel Knight go from a man who uses people and strives for little to one who is willing to risk his life for others. He is a well-realized character, and both interesting and engaging to control.
Dialogue is frequent and important to the story progression and puzzles. It drives the plot, detailing the background, the characters, and their situation. Given its importance in the game, it is a good thing that the dialogue is solid. However the sheer volume of the conversations does at times become a little tedious. Thankfully, this is not common, and most characters have something interesting to say on a number of topics. Through their dialogue - the way that they speak, what they will say, their attitudes and reactions – the individuality of each character is increased.
The voice acting for the dialogue is generally good, although there are a few parts and lines that are a little overdone. The worst of these is probably the narrator, whose accent is thick enough to slightly impede understanding at times. Once again, this issue detracts little from the gaming experience.
In almost all cases in which Gabriel talks to or questions someone in-depth (i.e. beyond small talk or a simple request), dialogues are presented in a separate interrogation screen. This screen has only three elements: the list of topics to pursue in the center, and portraits of Gabriel and the person to whom he is talking at the top left and bottom right respectively. These portraits are excellent and well-animated, looking beautiful and helping to humanize the characters beyond the effect of their sprites.
A number of the puzzles are dialogue-driven, involving Gabriel talking to a certain character or characters about specific matters in order to gain important knowledge, an item, or a new topic to pursue. These are, however, not very difficult. It is impossible to end a conversation without first covering the plot-dependent topics, and in most cases there is no danger in asking on any topic available. There is one case in which selecting a plot-point topic in a conversation results in the end of that conversation, without the opportunity to resume it, but in this case none of the other options are truly required, although they do add details to the overall picture.
The majority of the puzzles are inventory-driven, requiring Gabriel to discover the correct item to use with the correct object or person, sometimes in the correct place, to prevail in a particular situation. Most of these are fairly straightforward, although in a few cases the items are small, difficult to spot, or not obvious. The puzzles are generally fair and logical. Players paying attention to the conversations and the people and places around themselves should be able to get past them without too many problems.
Interestingly, there are a few points at which the players seem intentionally left unsure as to how to proceed, just as Gabriel himself might be. In these cases revisiting the various available areas will sometimes reveal an opportunity to progress, or an important event to stumble upon. I feel that this, while potentially bringing a minor stall to the flow of the game, is an interesting device that improves the realism of the story.
There are a few points where the player can die, especially in the dangerous finale. For this reason, it is advisable to save the game often – at least one dangerous situation could easily take players by surprise – and certainly before any clearly dangerous situation.
The game is divided into days, each day separated by a short scene set looking down on Gabriel's street by night. As the new day starts it is announced in red, and two lines from a poem appear at the bottom of the screen. These lines tell the story of the corresponding day in a brief verse. The entire poem tells the story of the game. The poem fits and adds to the dark atmosphere of the night scene during which it is delivered. It is an inspired addition – and an attentive player may find a hint or two in these lines. In addition, the brief night scenes at times add a little extra insight into the relationship between three of the main characters.
While the days end once Gabriel has completed certain important tasks, the player does not need to make all of the connections present in a given day to successfully complete it. On the other hand, each completed puzzle or new discovery adds to a score, in keeping with the style of other Sierra games of the time, displayed along with the maximum on the icon bar at the top of the screen. While the game will not allow the player to progress if he has missed an essential task or discovery, it is possible to leave behind lesser tasks, resulting in a lower score. In my point of view this is not a negative element at all, but rather one which increases the challenge of gaining the full score.
The interface is simple, and based entirely on mouse interaction (barring the use of the keyboard to name savegames). The mouse has eight available cursors, each indicating a particular action: look at, walk to, use, take, move item, open, question, and talk to. The last of those is generally used for minor conversation, as well as a few occasions when a full questioning would not be appropriate. The eight cursors can be selected from the icon bar at the top of the screen, as well as by cycling through them via clicks of the right mouse button. Performing the action designated by a cursor is enacted by clicking the left mouse button. When an item from the inventory is selected, the cursor takes on the form of that item, and clicking while this cursor is selected allows the player to attempt to use that item.
A useful addition to the interface is the tape recorder, which allows the player to revisit conversations held with other characters. Each dialogue is broken down into sections which are played back in sequence by pressing the “play” button on the tape recorder, and which present along with a textual transcript of the spoken words. The player can skip back and forth between sections using “fast forward” and “rewind” buttons.
While many of the non-interactive scenes are handled in-game, such as the night scenes described above, others are portrayed using short movies. Of these movies, some of the most striking are the ones that are designed to resemble the format and style of a graphic novel. These sequences provide some of the most emotive and expressive moments of the game, using dramatic images and some of the game's better voice acting.
The graphics in general are very good, given the limitations of a 256-color palette. The backgrounds in particular are at times excellent, surpassed only by the conversation portraits and again by the cut-scene movies mentioned above. The character sprites, however, are less impressive. They are limited by the low resolution, and the sprite animations are a little jerky, making them less convincing than they could be.
Similarly, the music is very good indeed, at times both stirring and emotive. The themes are generally appropriate to the scene and setting, adding well to the atmosphere, especially towards the end. This is not always the case, however – there are a few cases in which the music doesn't perfectly fit the scene, but these are the exception rather than the rule.
One last point of note is that Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is of decent length. It is certainly not a short game, but it does not draw out for too long either. Instead, it has enough content to fill the duration of the game, which should be long enough to satisfy all but the most demanding of players
In conclusion, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is an excellent game. It is a great deal of fun, with excellent cut-scenes and backdrops, and stirring music. The writing is very good, providing excellent characterization and a strong story. The game does have a few minor problems, but their importance diminish in the face of the many strengths of Gabriel Knight.
Final score: 90/100
|PC System Requirements:|
|DOS 5.0+, Win 3.1 or higher|
|486/33 or higher|
|8 MB RAM|
|20MB Hard Drive Space|
|256 Colour SVGA (640x480x256)|
|Windows Compatible Sound Card with DAC|
|2x CD-ROM Drive|
|Keyboard, mouse, speakers||